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Putin’s ally installed as Ukraine negotiator

By AFP - Feb 11,2020 - Last updated at Feb 11,2020

In this file photo taken on July 4, 2014, former Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Kozak in Simferopol (AFP photo)

MOSCOW — The Kremlin said on Tuesday it had appointed one of Vladimir Putin’s closest allies as its pointman on Ukraine and separatists amid a new push to de-escalate the five-year conflict.

Dmitry Kozak, a 61-year-old veteran official, replaces secretive strategist Vladislav Surkov, who had overseen Russia’s ties with Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries since 2013.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov did not say whether Surkov, 55, would be leaving the Kremlin altogether, but added that Kozak was now the new pointman on Ukraine.

“In his new role Kozak is in charge and will continue to be in charge of Ukrainian issues,” Peskov told reporters, adding he was also in charge of Russia’s integration policies.

Kozak, a former deputy prime minister, was appointed deputy head of the Kremlin administration in late January.

His appointment came just as a Kremlin-connected political analyst said Surkov was quitting his post because of an unspecified “change of direction” in Moscow’s Ukraine policies.

Alexei Chesnakov, a close Surkov ally, said the former Putin adviser would meditate for a month after quitting the Kremlin.


‘Constructive communication’ 


Like Putin, Kozak worked in the Saint Petersburg mayor’s office in the 1990s and has been in charge of a wide range of official projects since 1999.

He supervised Putin’s first reelection campaign in 2004, was responsible for preparations for the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi and served as the Kremlin’s pointman on Moldova.

Just as the Kremlin confirmed that Kozak would be its top Ukraine negotiator, the Ukrainian president’s pointman on Russia, Andriy Yermak, was appointed chief of his staff.

Speaking on television on Monday, Yermak said he believed Kozak was “inclined” to have dialogue with Ukraine. 

“I can say our communication was constructive,” he said in a televised interview.

A high-ranking Ukrainian official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP in late January that Kiev had some “successful” experiences with Kozak when he was in charge of energy issues.

In December 2019, Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky met for the first time at a summit in Paris aimed at agreeing measures to help end the conflict.

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